For those who missed it, this was ran on Coscomment a long time ago.
I want to give it a permanent home here so am re-posting.
Here you go, from September 1, 2007:
A.P. FUCHS and MIKE PHILBIN – A CONVERSATION
two unique writers’ lively and often conflicting views of the small press
A few weeks ago, A.P. Fuchs and Mike Philbin (a.k.a. Hertzan Chimera) decided to chew the fat on some industry issues that were prevalent to them. Here’s the result:
A.P. FUCHS: Seems to me that you’re one of the most peculiar men in this business, based on what I know of you/know of other writers in this industry. I’ve read some of your stuff, so I know as a starting point you know how to write. But what I find interesting is that, depending on who you talk to, you seem to also be one of the most hated men in the business (no offence). I assume Hertzan Chimera, your pseudonym, is largely to blame for that. However, being a “hated man” and/or “outsider” brings up an interesting spring board for our discussion, and that is, since you’re an outsider (and I consider myself one, too, since I’m primarily a self-publisher save for a sale here or there), do you think your view of the business differs from those who traditionally publish? And, if it does, does that difference in view stem from the fact you are an independent publisher (i.e. Chimericana Books), or because of, as you’ve been accused of, “not knowing the business”?
MIKE PHILBIN: Despite his obvious hatred for the mediocre world, I love that little rascal Hertzan Chimera like I’d love my own son. Anyway, what was the question? One of the most hated men in the industry? Surely not. I suspect most of my infamy is thanks to the sterling rabble rousing efforts of certain bitter parties within the horror industry. Sorry, did I just say industry? Did I mean the horror small press, where the best one can hope for is 200 friends buying your books? I’m not sure that’s an industry as far as a big family all buying your books out of sympathy, a desperate sort of hero need.
I started Chimericana Books when Cyber Pulp press folded in the middle of publishing Chimeraworld 2. I could have tried to sell the Chimeraworld anthology (now in its fifth year) to a traditional publisher via a literary agent but I wanted total editorial control of every aspect of it, thanks. . . What was your excuse? Why do you self-publish? What is this feeling of “outsiderness” you share with the Chimperson? What would you have done differently, given the chance?
A.P. FUCHS: Harsh words, but I have to admit to the truth in your statement. I do agree that, small press-wise, a large majority of sales come from “folks you know.” Which brings us to a huge problem: I mean, if only, as per your statement, 200 folks WHO YOU KNOW (emphasis mine) buy your book, why bother putting it out there to begin with? But, of course, the obvious retort is, “Why NOT put it out there?” But then flipping back, by “putting it out there,” are we then not feeding an industry that’s based on friends and family buying an author’s books, for sympathy or otherwise?
MIKE PHILBIN: We’re only feeding the small press ethos of limiteds for friends if that’s the sort of thing we want to do. Many writers just want to produce books they’d like to read, books they can’t find on the bookshelves or online. Most writers wish they had the spine to write ONLY those sorts of books, stripped of genre, that had meaning and relevance to their creative lives. But they can’t. Market pressures, deadlines and contracts stipulate that the writer is never present in his work, that his narratives follow a standard 3-act narrative and that his finalé fills the final 50 pages or more of tedium with a car chase, woods chase or race through time.
A.P. FUCHS: Hmph, strange thing. And it’s strange because we write a) because we have to (any writer knows this), b) we publish it to share our story with others, our hopes always being to garner a huge audience but, more realistically in the small press, a small audience. What is this need to “share” that we have? Trying to make a living aside, it almost comes across as a “Hey, look at what I made!” kind of thing, the same kind of thing where we hope we’re met with pats on the back, praise to our names, and a bunch of handshaking, cyber or physical. Pretty selfish, if you ask me, and I admit to being guilty of that now and then.
MIKE PHILBIN: I think it might be more a need to share “what we are” with the world. Those really creative writers who throw caution to the wind and f*** the middle ground where saleable product is more mind numbing than watching paint dry, more irrelevant than 13th century semantics, more annoying than any country’s current political policy. Real creatives want to be remembered, either now or in the future for ploughing a new furrow. Real creatives, like Philip K. Dick, like Arthur C. Clarke are the inventors of the future, those souls who reach beyond today and think with more than their cashbook.
A.P. FUCHS: To go back to your earlier question, and not to shine the spotlight back on myself, but in the interest of covering the bases: the reason I began self-publishing was simply because I didn’t know any better. I got rejected a few times then got sucked in by the false promises of a subsidy press. It was a nightmare from start to finish. I didn’t do my research and got nailed. I then kept on self-publishing to keep putting books out, as by then I had four or five books I was sitting on that needed to “get out there.” Ironically, despite the heartaches, funds spent, the frustrations and disappointments, I ended up falling in love with the process, especially when I started publishing via my own press, Coscom Entertainment. Chimeraworld aside, you’ve put out your own material, too. What’s the story there?
MIKE PHILBIN: Yeah, they were Rights Returned titles, either via my request to the original publishing company after a contractual time period or because the original publishing company went under. These titles include the 40,000 word novel Red Hedz (originally published by Creation Press in 1989), which was re-published by Eraserhead Press with additional material as the 104,000 word Szmonhfu in 2002. Szmonhfu was a total balls up of a project, trying to be something the original 3 novels it was composed of had never intended to be. I republished Red Hedz (and its follow up, Skin Science) as the two-part novel Jane’s Game in 2005. I have recently released four more novels like this in two-part publications, namely Twilight’s Last Gleaming and The Hoo-hoo Are Coming to critical ambivalence.
A.P. FUCHS: Might have to check them out. And, see, reprints, depending, is where self-publishing comes in handy. Likewise, for works that can’t be placed traditionally (unless you’re an established name). Nowadays, I write primarily Axiom-man stories. Since he’s my own superhero, one I created about fifteen years ago, I’m extremely attached to it and have a hard time imagining placing his story into the hands of another publishing firm, big or small. Further, I also recognize the impossibility of selling it. Not because he’s a terrible character or it’s a bad story or anything, but because, given today’s market-and-dollar-driven publishing climate, I can’t go up to, say, Pocket Books—or even an agent—and try and sell them on it. Axiom-man isn’t Superman or Batman or Spider-man. He doesn’t have decades of storylines and millions of fans. His fanbase, in comparison, is quite small. I always wanted to have my own little Star Wars, something I can call my own and do my way.
I approach putting out the Axiom-man books no differently than a traditional press: the books are edited by a pro editor, the covers are done by extremely talented artists, they’re competitively priced (which I’m proud of since I use print-on-demand technology and don’t hike the price as a result), it’s reviewed, it’s promoted, etc. Since I am both the publisher and author, I receive financial compensation for both.
MIKE PHILBIN: But you’re ploughing your own furrow—you’re neither limited by a publisher’s marketing plan or reliant on that plan to sell your product. Only the quality of your writing, your franchise and the continued adventure are your master. You are, in effect, living the dream of total creative freedom. I must tell you something now, and this will come as a surprise, that copy of The Life and Death of Hertzan Chimera that you read (and reviewed, thanks) was only two thirds of the original. Those “collaborative interviews” with the likes of horror regulars Monica J O’Rourke, Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, Mike Arnzen and others was filler material I threw in at the very last minute. I basically eradicated the first twenty years of Mike Philbin in that pseudobiography, concentrating only on the Hertzan Chimera bits, his artistic struggle and his useless demise. Other titles I have published through Chimericana Books have been the right-returned The Best of Him+Chim+Her and Horror Quarterly (The First Three Issues). All because I could, and did. It’s my world, screw the mainstream, screw the genre, screw the reader and my fellow writers who seem to live in a hell of blinkered nonchalance.
A.P. FUCHS: Speaking of screwing, to a point, it’s the path we’re on, that is, screwing ourselves in regards to “really getting out there.” At least, with the way the biz is at present. Example: I think book returns are ridiculous. According to the New York Times, in 2002 Harper Collins lost $250 million just due to returns!! $250 million! I mean, come on, if my company lost that kind of dough, I’d most certainly question whether my business practices were efficient or not. It seems that only the top few titles the big firms put out are the ones that carry the company. The remainder of titles either break even or lose money. Come year’s end, sure, you’ve made a profit so it looks good on the books, but in actuality, to lose money on a huge amount of your titles? Seems strange to me. I also have trouble with the current distribution model. A distributor takes 65% off cover, with 40-45% going to the bookstores. At the end of the day, the stores make more money off the books than the publisher and author, the very ones who made the book to begin with! I also take issue with traditionally-published writers who tear down a work because it was self-published. I’m in complete agreement that there are a lot of bad self-published books out there, but I also know from firsthand reading experience that there are a lot of good ones, as well. On that same note, I’ve read a host of terrible traditionally-published books, too, so the New York stamp of approval isn’t a guarantee of greatness anyway. We’re just told to think it is. To me, what makes a good book is a good story and good reader reception. If you have those, you have a good book. (A good cover helps, too, of course, but in regards to the actual “meat” of a title, those first two are the most important.)
MIKE PHILBIN: You’re gonna get nowhere with that attitude, A.P. Don’t you realise that an author has to “pay his dues” to his agent, his editor, his publisher, his publicist and his distributor? The definition of the term “writer” should have the description “whore” in there somewhere, an entity that creates worlds upon pre-payment. Real creatives write/paint/think because they have to. It’s their driving force.
A.P. FUCHS: Obviously they “have to.” But you intrigued me with your use of the word “whore,” and having taken in that recent debacle of a thread over at Shocklines in regards to hating the reader, it seems to me you have a real issue with the traditional publishing system and/or traditional writers in general. Based on what I know, it seems you feel most of what is published is either a) same old, same old, or b) cookie cutter fiction meant to feed the masses. Yet as per the outcome of that thread and the responses posted, many disagreed with you. So I have to wonder, where does this distaste for “regular” writing and/or publishing come from?
MIKE PHILBIN: It’s something Japanese film director Takashi Miike said in his interview on the Audition DVD Extras, when asked, “Do you receive much feedback on your work from your peers, your country men?” And his succinct response was this: “You are only marked by the sort of things you watch. There’s no discussion about what you watch, just that you watched it. It’s like a badge, something your peers can approve of when they see you wearing it. People no longer think.” I paraphrased a tad, but I couldn’t be bothered loading up the DVD and quoting word-for-word.
Writer—stop. Stop writing what you’ve been told to write. Stop writing what you’re audience is expecting. Stop writing books you hope will sell. You’re not a writer at this point. The one reason? Your reader is killing you. You’re dead soon. Why are you wasting your time pandering to a few thousand dedicated fans, your readers, when there are billions of OTHER PEOPLE who may be better suited to the books you really wanna write. I know you could say, “Well, write to the reader, get an audience THEN write the books you want.” But you can’t. Even the great Agatha Christie had to resurrect her hated Poirot due to public demand, as will (probably) J.K. Rowling at some point in her future.
The reader is a parasite, fans are much worse.
How do you see the reader?
How does religion affect the things you write?
How do you stay alive day after day?
A.P. FUCHS: As I mentioned in that thread, I can’t see how it’s possible to NOT take the audience into consideration on some level (consciously or subconsciously), but I do agree that one shouldn’t cater to them because I’m a firm believer that a story is alive and that it goes where it wills and a writer’s first allegiance is to where it takes him/her. So for me, I see the reader more as a “hopeful,” that is someone I’m hoping who’ll like what I put down with the knowledge that they might not. That’s really as far as it goes for me. If they like it, great. If not, well, sorry, I tried my best and one’s best is all anyone can be asked to do anyway.
But that said, due to my personal religious beliefs (devout Christian), a rein has been put around my writing. There are some story ideas I get ideas for that I don’t start because to entertain them or explore them would be crossing a line I’m not spiritually prepared to do. Yet at the same time, while working on a story or novel, the way it comes out falls in line with my religious beliefs so, so far, I’ve never had to “censor” myself or stop and rethink a scene. It’s not a sin to have a dark and/or evil thought enter the mind. It is one when the thought is entertained and acted on. Not to go all preachy, but Jesus said a man’s spoken words reflect the overflow of his heart and what’s in there, and though I’ll never claim perfection (who can, save One?), I’m pleased to say that so far, what’s “overflowed” hasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, contradicted my religious beliefs (which I try and make as Biblically accurate as possible), which tells me I’m on the right track spiritually.
I stay alive by breathing, like most people. And though I mean that as a joke, there’s also truth to it in terms of an artist’s life. I hate pretension, just to be clear, and this next bit will come off sorely pretentious and I don’t mean it as such, but in short, my “breathing” is the exercise of my creativity. Am I the greatest creative mind ever to walk the earth? No way. But am I creative? Yes. I’ve been dreaming up stories since as far back as I can remember (and my first memory is dated to when I was around 3 years old). I daydream both during the waking hours and while I lay down before falling asleep. It’s pretty much non-stop for me. If I didn’t fantasize constantly or write down what I see in my head, I’d suffocate
A brief example is, while working on a book, my head is so full of the story that for the four months or so it takes me to write a book, I have a constant subtle headache with this strange kind of “fuzzy” feeling in my head. Once the book is done, it’s blessed relief and I can think clearly again till the next story comes. And since beginning the Axiom-man storyline, the full head thing has gotten worse since the storyline is such a massive project. I subconsciously remember everything at once despite the notes I keep.
Which makes me wonder, what’s a typical writing session for you look like?
MIKE PHILBIN: Wow, I have no idea how to succinctly answer this question, so I’ll ramble on for a bit and see where it takes us. Writing, for me, is like an obsession. What I mean by that is I don’t have to do it all the time; in fact some times I have no writing ideas at all and have to find “other creative outlets.” Because I’m not a full-time writer, I have a full-time job so that bills are paid, I have to grab time when the inspiration strikes. As you may or may not know, my first Eraserhead Press novel, the cobbled-together 104,000-word Szmonhfu took fourteen years to complete in various fits and starts while my recent novel, Bukkakeworld, was completed (and has an eager American publisher) within just two months. A book has its time . . . not for the reader, I’m not talking about the “fame that arrives after a long apprenticeship.” I’m not talking about the working a lifetime to be an overnight success. I’m talking about the writing of a book. I don’t believe you can write a worthy book to order. Take a subject and write 100,000 words on it. That’s just filling in blanks. You’ll probably have an outline worked out, maybe even this outline has been worked on by your agent and okayed in pre-sale by your editor-to-be. But that’s not writing. Writing is all about pouring the person you are now onto the page and TO HELL WITH THE READER. Write your story and have others along for the ride like privileged guests. This is always the statement that gets me the darkest, most aggressive responses: “Privileged guests, you pompous git!” Yes, privileged guests. Without those people brave enough to unfurl their experience of life on planet Earth for the reader, no one would think, governments would bully its tax-payers into submission and status quo would continue to rule. Writers are mankind’s attempt to wake up to the s*** on the end of every forkful, to taste every cheap coffee, to live like any whore under the iron-rod of a ruthless pimp.
I’m a fast typist when I need to be. I can have one hour’s worth of inspiration and suddenly there on the page are 1,500 words. Of course, I’m not a long-distance stayer. I’m a sprinter. I come and go, blowing hot and cold, in exhaustive creative sprints of acid-burning pleasure. A typical session, I don’t even remember half of what I’ve written, I’m just in the moment, laying down the stream of consciousness onto the page like a dream machine, a typing entity. I don’t even get minimum wage for my own secretarial labour. For me a writer is someone who “can turn it off.” Not turn it on, it’s always on. A true writer is someone who knows he should be doing something but chooses not to anyway, because human fickleness is a Godsend.
Inspiration-wise, I am rarely inspired by the many books I read, more often than not, I lift inspiration from all around me, from things that have nothing to do with books, from real life, from reflected life, from broadcast life, from dream life. Very rarely will a writer have something to say that I might want to use in my own fiction.
You? Where do your ideas spring? Or are your religious diligences enough to power you on to the next life and future renown?
A.P. FUCHS: A basic writing session for me looks like this: pull up my present work-in-progress in MSWord, read the last sentence or two to get my bearings, go outside with a coffee and cigarette (yeah, I know, bad habit; working on quitting) and daydream about the next scene (“pre-write,” pretty much), then go back inside and type out what I saw in my head. I work Monday-Saturday while creating a book and do about 1500-2500 words per sitting, depending on the complexity of the scene. (Though my big “claim to fame” was when I finished up the second Axiom-man book; I blew out over 8000 words in a single night!)
For me, since I began writing seriously in June of 2000, my “idea spring” can be split into two halves with a common thread: life, of course, and, up until roughly the fall of 2005, I was going through a very dark period of my life, one filled with constant depression (the pain inside was so bad I survived on three to four hours sleep per night; couldn’t sleep it hurt so much), suicide tendencies, cutting, and a few addictions. My horror and darker writing (never mind the plethora of poetry I did) was my way of dealing with what was going on inside, all the anger, all the pain. I did a lot of living during this seven-year period and I’m still young, only twenty-six as of this writing. (Interestingly, the number seven is the Biblical number of completion.) Then since I got straight with Jesus in the fall of 2005, life changed dramatically and through no effort of my own. Not overnight, mind you, but rather quickly nonetheless (and it’s still changing for the better now). So, to answer your question, I draw my inspiration from the living I did during that darker time and from the living I’m doing now. And since I decided to do primarily superhero stuff from here on in save for a few “other” types of work here or there, my inspiration for superhero fiction I’m attempting comes from a lifetime of absorbing the genre. The Axiom-man storyline is my attempt at putting down all my thoughts on superheroes, asking and providing answers to questions about them, asking questions about them of my own which, at present, don’t have answers but will hopefully have some one day.
(As a side note, my withdrawal from writing horror has nothing to do with my religious beliefs at all, but rather finding my “writing calling,” as it were, in doing superhero tales. Even if you read my horror and dark fantasy stuff (especially A Red Dark Night and The Way of the Fog), it’s evident they’re basically just superhero tales in disguise, which was both conscious and subconscious at the time they were written.)
As for my religious diligences empowering me, for the record, I’m not religious. Not at all, and I truly mean that. I have a relationship to God through Jesus Christ. Religion is just a blind attempt by man to try and attain and understand what he cannot possibly grasp nor comprehend on his own. (And this was a conclusion I drew ON MY OWN through my own soul searching and long hours of deep thought. Which I take pride in, especially since Christians are often criticized as being “non-thinkers.” Trust me. I don’t look at the world through rose-colored glasses nor am ignorant about life.)
The beliefs most definitely power me on through to the next life by bringing a deep understanding that “we’re all just passing through” and, as Cerebus creator Dave Sim once said, that life is just like an airport lounge where we’re preparing for our final destination. For me, this has brought a tremendous relief in not only dealing with daily pressures (the idea of “I have to get this done or the world will end”; we’ve all been there), but also in my writing pressures as well. For a long time I was stuck in the “have to get a mass market deal, have to please my peers” mentality and it drove me nuts. So much so I was ready to walk away from the publishing game permanently. Then I realized that even if I got a mass market deal and all my writer buddies loved me, I still couldn’t take any of that with me and the novelty of it would have worn off rather quickly (never mind the need to then stay on top once I hit that high note). Couple that with my choice to be a superhero fiction self-publisher and I’m free creatively in a way I have never been before.
*takes a deep breath*
But bouncing back a bit before I went off on a tangent there, it seems you paint the writing and publishing world with a broad brush, one that states that nearly all fiction coming out of US presses nowadays are either a) cookie cutter or b) uninspired. Am I accurate in assuming this? If so—and here’s where I put you on the spot—what is this mindset based on? In other words, can you back it up?
MIKE PHILBIN: No, it’s not true. Everything’s fine in the horror industry. That’s why we see the same 200 people buying the same f***ing books all the time. Show me one writer in the small press today who’s just about to push through into the mainstream, can we call it “doing a J.K. Rowling”? Nobody likes horror, agents’ faces screw up when you mention you’re a horror writer, publishers rarely support the horror bookshelf oasis. And rightly so. Writers must abandon the horror genre (in fact all genres) to truly open up as a writer. But of course there’ll be nay-sayers. There always are. Like me, they have their own opinion of how their world really works. And that’s fine. But they’re not right. As I’m not right, I’m just guessing, I’m just expressing an opinion. I went to the Horrorfind convention and sampled the very best the horror industry could offer, sat through reading after reading from these so-called superstars of the horror genre. And it was just boring, dull, grey and formulaic for the most part. There were one or two diamonds in the dust, there always are. But the background noise was supremely un-inspirational. And, yes, cookie cutter fiction. Genre by the numbers. Spineless.
I’d like to talk about God. Why do people have any faith in God? God is not a thing of this realm. It’s not because God allows such amazingly cruel things to happen in this realm. It’s not because the Bible and the Koran are just works of state propaganda from a distant time when oral traditions, brainwashing and mind control went hand-in-hand with the gathering of taxes and the filling of royal coffers. “Gospel Truth” is such an anachronism – it’s potentially libellous. Governments don’t want non-believers because that way they have less influence upon their sheeplike God-believing mindset. God is dangerous to mankind in that it allows for subjugation of its believers. I’m sure no REAL God would want to limit the creative potential of its believers. A REAL God would be all about exploring every single human potential from now until the end of time. Maybe we don’t understand what God means (this is evident) and maybe there is no God. And so what? We have our one chance to live. We all die. No God is going to get in the way of that life cycle. Or it would have already happened.
Anyway, one final question from me, where do you see yourself, as a writer, ten years from now?
A.P. FUCHS: I suppose that, to a point, “formula” is inevitable. What I mean is there will always be patterns because there’s no other way to do things. An example being if you did a zombie story. There are certain elements that you have to include, like the zombies’ birth, their need to eat people, the helpless (and sometimes hapless) humans that try and outrun them. The key, I think, with any genre story is your take on that genre and/or concept. It might not be 100% original, but is the idea being viewed through a new lens or through the already-used lens of King or Koontz? I honestly believe it’s impossible to write an utterly and completely brand new story. Writers are always inspired by something that already exists (that’s why it’s called inspiration and not original thought).
I’d like to talk about God, too, but let’s save that for another time, shall we? I’m sure we’d have fun with that one.
As to where I see myself as a writer ten years from now, I’m hoping to still be plugging away on my superhero series with a few mainstream superhero titles under my belt, whether that be something major like a Superman or Batman novel or something smaller like a Zorro story. I’ve pretty much set my focus on staying independent. Whether that’s to my detriment or not, that remains to be seen.
MIKE PHILBIN: Ten years time? Hell knows.